Before being the residence of King Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI, Versailles was a hunting pavilion that Nicolas Huaut built for Louis XIII. A palace with a French garden was also built, where the court was installed. After the death of the King, Anne of Austria assumed the regency in the name of his son Louis XIV and abandoned the Versailles premises.
After his wedding with Maria Theresa of Austria, King Louis XIV settled in Versailles and made it his official residence. Several construction works took place to turn this place into the palace that we know today. The different works were made in successive stages. For instance, the Hall of Mirrors was not built until 1679, even in spite of the fact that the Sun King had been there for almost 20 years.
The arrival of the Baroque architecture
Before the construction works began with Louis XIV, the Palace of Versailles was made of brick. The italian Renaissance that took place between the 14th and 15th centuries had a great influence in the French art during the following years. The Baroque style is characterized by extravagances in architecture, literature and music. The way of thinking of that time led the artists to multiply decorative elements such as gilding, stucco arabesques, painted vaults and even the use of trompe l’oeil techniques.
The structure of the palace revolves around the figure of the King. His apartments are located right in the center of the building and everything had to be organized around it. Therefore the first plant is reserved for the King’s grand apartments, in the north zone, and the Queen’s grand apartments in the south zone.
A supremely technical work of art
Despite the clear presence of the Baroque style, in the Palace of Versailles, harmony is a special protagonist thanks to optical effects. The disposition of the palace is very geometric with distortions that give an illusion of perfect harmony. The palace, deemed an historical monument since 1862, is made up of a central space in which the apartments are located. The South wing holds the Gallery of Battles. The Chapel of the palace and the Royal Opera, finished after the death of Louis XIV, are located in the North wing. Besides these buildings, the Palace of Versailles is structured around inner and outer patios. The Place d’Armes welcomes visitors to give an impression of intensity. One must imagine that in the times of the Kings, they had to go through this 300 meter long square to get to the courtyard, delimited by its great golden gate. Right after that are the Royal Courtyard, the Marble Trianon, the Prince’s Courtyard in the south and the High Court of the Chapel of Versailles in the north.
Besides, each part of the palace has great interior yards, divided in turn into two smaller ones.
The Palace of Versailles has not always looked the way it looks today. The succession of its tenants has allowed the preparation of an increasingly complex architecture to transform it into an independent royal residence. The buildings, composed of a Royal Opera, their own chapel and their lounges turned it into an efficient and functional place. Thanks to the talent of architects and artisans, Louis XIV managed to create this society of pleasure in which courtiers courtiers could enjoy the lavishness in the center of which the Sun King was.
The construction of the palace was made with a predominant longitudinal axis that has a large yard in the center, which organizes the entire place and displays a monumental scale, which responds to the power that Louis XIV wanted to display. At the same time, this longitudinal axis is offset with an elongated facade. Another one of the characteristics of the design is the symmetry. It is symmetrically divided by a main axis. This axis is in the same orientation of the onlookers’ gaze when they access the palace to emphasize its depth and diminish the horizontal facade. The transversal axis is constituted by the volumes of the palace and are subdivided, everything without pushing the symmetry of the palace aside.
In total, there are linear elements and others that are completely perpendicular among them. The palace has a language based in what would later be known as the French classicism. All of the elements that form the set are built within a large order, with a big general proportion and an exquisite harmony, all of this in spite of the differences in construction times and materials, but at all times it maintains a symmetrical composition.
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